TAMPA — Under normal circumstances, it's tough for USF to beat a ranked opponent.
So with a key player newly lost for the season to injury, with two teammates sitting in jail after an arrest and with leading scorer Dominique Jones on the bench after fouling out with five minutes left, the Bulls had plenty to overcome late against No. 20 Villanova.
The Bulls were within two points with 90 seconds to play but missed key free throws and failed to score on six of their last seven possessions, allowing the Wildcats to escape with a 70-61 victory before 4,245 at the Sun Dome.
"That's Dominique time for us," coach Stan Heath said of the closing minutes of a tight game. Jones picked up his fourth foul with seven minutes left, sat for a minute, then picked up his fifth foul with 5:28 left.
Freshman Gus Gilchrist, who finished with a team-high 18 points and seven rebounds, went to the free-throw line twice as the Bulls trailed 60-57 with 1:45 to play. He made just one of four free throws, and Villanova closed out the game at the line, hitting 8 of 13 shots. That's still better than USF, which went 16-of-29 (55 percent).
"To beat a team like that, for us, there are a few things that have to happen," Heath said. "We have to make some open shots that we get, because we don't get a lot of them against Villanova. You have to make your free throws."
The Bulls (7-12, 2-5 Big East) now must travel to face another ranked team, No. 9 Louisville, on Wednesday, while Villanova (15-4, 3-3) leaves Heath 0-9 against ranked opponents in his two seasons at USF.
Jones finished with 11 points but on 3-for-9 shooting. Senior guard Jesus Verdejo, who missed his last game due to a concussion, struggled as well, going 3-for-15 on the way to 13 points. Point guard Chris Howard had 15 points, his most in more than a year, but the Bulls missed center B.J. Ajayi, lost for the season with a knee injury Thursday. Villanova's bench outscored USF's 25-1.
Guards Mike Mercer and Anthony Crater were arrested late Friday on misdemeanor counts of marijuana possession (story, 1C).